October 30, 2008

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Fallout 3 (360/PS3/PC)
Bethesda Game Studio, Oct. 28, M

By Glenn "A Republican Tommorrow" Given production@hippopress.com

Who rules Barter Town? You do!

The Elder Scrolls developer shrugs off medieval trappings in favor of 16 square miles of irradiated Washington, D.C., as it steps into the big shoes of the RPG Fallout series to great success.

Two hundred seventy-seven years after a devestating nuclear holocaust between America and China, the player must leave the dreary seclusion of rad shelter Vault 101 for the less claustrophobic but starkly more violent Capital Wastelands in search of their absconded father (voiced by Jesus-lion himself Liam Neeson!) and, ultimately, a plan to reclaim society from radioactive anarchy. Character creation allows you to focus your seven core attributes to fit your playstyle (i.e. Strength pluses for melee-oriented players, Perception for stealthers, etc.) and distribute points among 14 skills like Lockpicking, Energy Weapons and Bartering. Bethesda does a superb job of making these choices count — while many RPG titles attempt such customizability they often punish players for choosing any configuration other than dedicated combat builds. In Fallout 3, while combat is ever-present, there are nearly always multiple paths of completion for each objective. In another nod to personalized playstyle, the entire combat system can be run in standard FPS mode or action can be paused into a hybrid turn-based system called V.A.T.S.. During combat phases players allocate action points to take specific combat maneuvers, which allows the less twitch-gaming-oriented of us to still land critical headshots or blast the machine gun out of a supermutant’s hands.

There is a lot to do in Fallout 3’s nuc-u-ler aftermath and it’s easy to find yourself hitting the level cap before you’ve reached the end game owing to the abundance of side quests and skirmishing you’ll fall into. While the Gamebryo engine might be showing some cracks in its character animation (especially in the creepy facial structures and moon-man jumping) and it can be difficult to tell one bombed-out shanty town from the next, Fallout 3 remains smooth and visually rich.

If you only get one tactical RPG that allows you to create ad hoc frag grenades out of tool boxes and bottle caps and use them to kablooey glowing green ghouls this season, make it Fallout 3. AGlenn Given